Cuba: Did IKEA use Cuban prison labor?

Country celebrates May Day, International Press Freedom Day invites condemnation, and Cuban press takes a look at Cubans’ unique names.

Did IKEA Use Cuban Prisoners to Assemble Furniture?

This week, German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung broke the news that Swedish furniture company IKEA may have used Cuban prisoners of conscience as factory workers in the late 1980s.

The paper alleges that the Cuban government negotiated with IKEA through an East German mediary for prisoners to assemble parts for 35,000 dining tables, 10,000 children’s tables and an unspecified number of sofas. The information was found in government documents from the former East Germany.

IKEA’s US spokesperson Mona Liss said ‘As far as we know, there have only been occasional test purchases of a limited amount of products from Cuban suppliers in the late 80s’. IKEA said they were investigating the allegations through interviews with former employees.

The allegations provoked a strong response from the Cuban exile community in Miami. US Congresswoman Ileane Ros-Lehtinen (R- South Florida) urged IKEA to continue its investigation.

‘All companies, including large ones, have a moral responsibility to assure that they are not used by tyrannical regimes to once again violate human rights,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

May Day celebrations throughout the country

Cuba marked May Day this week under the slogan ‘Preserving and perfecting socialism.’

The parades and marches held throughout the island were dedicated to the ‘update’ of the island’s socialist economy. For the first time workers from the nascent private sector were permitted to participate.

‘We, the workers and the labor movement, are the key players in the supreme effort to update the Cuban economic model,’ said Salvador Valdés, Secretary General of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba – CTC).

In Havana the parade was led by President Raúl Castro and members of the country’s public health union. ‘These workers represent our achievements and the internationalist spirit of the Revolution,’ said state media blog Cubadebate.

World Press Freedom Day invites condemnation of Cuba

The 1 May also marked World Press Freedom Day, with a number of international organizations condemning Cuba’s lack of press freedom.

A Freedom House report on press freedom in 2011, released on 1 May, put Cuba among its eight ‘worst of the worst’ in the world for press freedom. ‘In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression’, the report says.

Amnesty International also released a report on 1 May titled ‘Repression in the Digital Era’. The report condemned Cuba, along with China and Syria, for extending internet censorship.

The report notes that 75 independent Cuban journalists have been imprisoned in the past year in Cuba, according to Cuban independent press agency Hablemos Press.

Widayesi, Usnavy, Yakarta, Yumilsis…

Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper for Cuba’s Young Communists, reported on the trend of Cubans giving their children unique, and ‘sometimes unpronounceable’ names.

Among the unique names cited in the report and El Nuevo Herald are ‘Widayesi’ (it’s a combination of the world for ‘yes’ in four languages), Usnavy (US Navy), and geographical names such as Hanoi or Yakarta. Names of Russian origin such as Yuri, Boris, Tatiana, Yordanka, as well as names inspired by English words such as Leidy (lady), or Meivi (maybe) are also popular.

Names beginning with Y are a phenomenon on their own; their wide use inspired the name of Cuban dissident blogger Yoanni Sánchez’s blog ‘Generación Y’.

Juventud Rebelde interviewed Aurora Camacho Barreiro of the Cuban Literature and Linguistic Institute about this wide use of unique names. Camacho Barreiro says the custom reflects ‘linguistic cultural values’ and should be respected.

She owes the unique names to a decline in the practice of Catholicism among Cubans, which resulted in fewer Cubans using saints’ names. She also notes the internationalization of Cuban names due to cultural influence from Russia, the United States, and Brazil through TV and movies.